Archive for the ‘New Chicken Housing’ Category

Our chicken dome experience

November 5, 2011

I thought it was time to review our chicken dome experiences.  We first built a chicken dome after reading Linda Woodrow’s book Permaculture Home Garden.  We were truly inspired by the concepts of the book and despite living on only an 800 sqm block we wanted to give it a go.  In order to get a 12 garden rotation to fit in our back yard, still leaving room for the kids and the dog to play, we made a dome with half the area as the one in the book.

Because we didn’t shorten the uprights, the dome was pretty tall and we had to give the chooks a chair so they could get up to the roost.

Also because the circumference was smaller the pipe was under more pressure but it was quite workable none the less.  We had the pipe break a couple of times but easily fixed it by putting some large dowel inside the pipe where it was broken and screwing it in place.

We had 6 hens in there and they had a good life eating all the garden leftovers.  That was in Albany, Western Australia.  Beautiful climate, no frosts and plenty of rain.  We used our dome there for 2 years before we moved.  I believe the dome lasted for about another year after before the pipe became so brittle that they gave up on it.

When we moved to Tasmania we were keen to have full size domes and gardens again.  However money is always in short supply and with a view to having longer lasting domes we decided to make them using the black rural poly pipe.  It lasts longer out in the sun, but is less rigid than the white pipe, so we made geodesic domes rather than the original type.  (We followed some instructions on a website which has now gone, but I have pasted the instructions at the end of this post in case anyone wants to see them.)  We hoped that the geodesic form would give more structural support to counter the more flexible pipe.

We used 1 inch rural poly and covered it with very heavy chicken wire which can withstand quolls and foxes.  The roost was mounted to the pipes.  Before long we added further tarps around the back of the dome to give more wind shelter to the hens.  We originally attached the pipes together with cable ties but over the years it was necessary to replace that with wire ties instead.

Over the years we made another 3 domes, just using ordinary chicken wire for them.  They have been pretty constantly used, but were difficult to move.  It was easiest to take the whole family down and do it together.

This is how the  domes look after 3-4 years.

This poor one is quite flat.  I have stakes in most of them to hold to pipe up, but they have fallen over in this one.

This is our original dome.

We no longer try to move them but just keep them propped up as best we can.  It is very difficult for us to get inside them, although the chooks still roost in the two better ones.

I did like the dome system and can see things we could have done that would have made our domes much longer lasting.  Firstly if using the rural poly pipe then I would recommend using 1.5 inch pipe which is much more rigid and strong.  This would help to keep the domes in shape.  Also I think that our domes collapsed largely due to having the weight of 12 hens on the roost weighing  them down.  I would make a stand alone roost for them instead.  It might make moving the dome a little more fiddly, but would be worth it in the long run.  (We have made some good stable roosts from old broken wooden bed frames.)  I would also wire the pipes together from the start.

So that is our experience.  Feel free to learn from our mistakes.  🙂

It is time for new chicken housing for us.  We are going to a different rotating model that we are making up ourselves due to some problems that we have that are specific to us.  Namely the fact that we have possums, wallabies and turkeys who persistently manage to invade my gardens despite the electric fencing around them.  Also the sparrows do some damage so I am going to have gardens that remain fenced to keep things out as well as the chooks in when they are going through them.  I also like to free range the chickens so this will keep the gardens safe from them too.

We have made the first run of our chicken housing now.

It is tall so we can walk into it to weed or whatever.  Each section can comfortably hold 6 or 7 chickens, and there are 6 sections in the run.

The front and rear walls will stay there constantly but the roof and end walls are on frames or panels that can be moved as required with the chooks.  The plan is that the birds can be rotated through the sections so they can eat what remains of the veggie gardens after harvest, and giving us new chook worked over areas to plant veggies anew each season.  Ultimately we plan to have multiple rows with probably one bunch of birds for each row.  At the moment we have multiple end panels so we can divide up the sections for the chooks we currently have.



It seems that the instructions that we followed to make the geodesic dome have disappeared from the web, so I have pasted them here instead.  They used to be on Hell Creek Farming Co-operative ‘s web page.

1. Choose the size of dome you wantThese instructions are for a 3/8 sphere. If I remember correctly, a 10-pipe dome is approximately the same size as described in Linda Woodrow’s book. I used white PVC piping, but perhaps 3/4 inch rural grade poly pipe might be rigid enough to work. It would be a lot cheaper I guess.

Total number of 6-m lengths









Total length of pipe (m)









Area of chook yard (m2)









2. Join the pipe together and cut the lengths you need (metres). You won’t need any joiners if you measure your cut from the end without the bell, and make the circle last. Join the pipes with special blue solvent glue you can get at the place you got your pipes.

Circumference of base circle (1 of these)









Length of Big arc (5 of these)









Length of Small arc (5 of these)









3. Use these sizes in Step 4 (these are the sizes of the sides of the triangles in the dome)

 B–B (m)









 B–R (m)









 R–R (m)









4. Mark where the pipes will cross (the apexes of the triangles–where two pipes cross will have a mark of the same colour. I use a blue and red marker). B-B is the length of the space between 2blue marks; R-R is the length of the space between 2 red marks; and R-B (or B-R) is the length of the space between a red and a blue mark as given in step 3, above. The first and last marks are at the end of each length of pipe

 Big arcs B-B-R-R-B-B-R-R-B-B
 Small arcs R-B-B-R-R-B-B-R
 Circle B-R-R-B-B-R-R-B-B-R-R-B-B-R-R-B-B-R-R-B

5. Assemble your dome To avoid crimping the pipe, start by making a pentagon fastened* at theblue points in the centre of the 5 big arcs. (Before fastening, weave the big arcs over and under each other.) Stand this up inside the circle. Check that the big arcs continue the over-and-under pattern where they cross each other at the red points. Now fasten the ends of the big arcs to the base circle at the appropriate blue points (I found it easier to put all the ends on the inside of the circle, although this does upset the over-and-under pattern). Fasten where the red points of the big arcs cross (Sometimes errors creep in when measuring, so even out any odd places and fasten where the pipes want to cross—it’ll be close to the red marks). The dome should now be quite stable. Weave in the small arcs, keeping the over-and-under pattern. Fasten temporarily until you have them all in place. That way you can even out any slight measurement errors.

* I fastened where the pipes crossed by drilling a small hole through both pipes and tying them together with a piece of wire. Perhaps you could use cable ties; these are cheap, strong and easy. And if you don’t like your dome, you can still use the pipe. I’m going to use these in my next dome.


6. Clad your dome with chook netting Making the dome was the fun part. Cladding is not so easy, but the chooks aren’t fussy about appearance so be inventive.


7. Peg your dome to the ground! Plastic pipe is great: it’s easy to work and lightweight, but it can make a great kite in only a moderate wind. The pipes are flexible and don’t break easily, but the joints are quite rigid (and also maybe the glue weakens the plastic?). When I found the first of these domes blown into a tree, it was fine except for 3 clean breaks right at the joints. So the moral of the story is: Peg it down.

A bit more building and farewell to the Dexters

October 23, 2011

The weather has certainly become warmer as the world turns.  Just the other day we were complaining of the heat and when I checked the thermometer it read 20.7 degrees.  🙂  I guess we have aclimatised to Tasmanian weather now and I rather think that if I ever return to Perth it better not be in Summer!

Since I last wrote we have had another batch of piglets, 9 this time, and they are all weaned and ready to sell as of now.  They are cute little critters.

We have also turned our last big pig (other than the breeders) into pork.  Her name was Skinny Minnie but she was neither skinny nor minnie in the end.  I got more adventurous this time when we did the butchering and kept the small intestines as well, which I have made into sausage casings.  There is a post on this blog describing how I did it with lots of pictures that may not be to everyone’s taste.  🙂  It is always interesting to learn how to do these sorts of things though, and the internet is a marvellous source of information.  Lydia is currently working on tanning a piece of pig skin.  She fleshed it and soaked it in lime to remove the hair.  The next part in the process is the soaking in tannin.  Apparently we have the best bark on our wattle trees for tanning, and so she is using that.  All of the byproducts from the process can be thrown on the gardens and will be good for them.  Chemical tanning is another matter!  It is sad that the world so often seems to end up using methods to do things that are detrimental to the environment, when other more sustainable ways are available.

When Kim is well enough he has been using his new (well, new to us) Triton workbench to start work on some kitchen drawers.  It has been a learning experience for him but he is doing a good job.  So far I have a new bench, a new rubbish system and 3 drawers, all of which is making our little shack more efficient already.  One of the drawers has been allocated to be an egg drawer, so that we can easily keep on top of what eggs we have and which are the freshest ones.  The pigs are getting lots of eggs for their dinner lately, which is a great source of protein for them.

Our poultry has been given our attention recently.  We now have a portable energiser attached to the electric netting fence for the tent dwelling chooks who we like to call the Bush Rangers.  That means that we can move them anywhere on the block.  One job that has taken up lots of our time lately has been the extension of the wooden chook houses.  We now have 6 sections 3m long and 2m wide.  Our original idea was to make all the walls as moveable panels, but after more consideration we decided to just make the roof and end walls moveable, and to keep the front and back walls fixed.  This will make rotating the chooks through the cages easier, and will mean that when there are no chooks in the sections and I have vegetables planted in them instead, that the veggies can’t get raided by any free ranging chooks or turkeys or any of the local possums, pademelons, bettongs and even sparrows if we cover the open top with netting.  At last I may be able to grow veggies again!  All it takes is to completely fence the garden in and the rest of the world out.  🙂  I have 2 of the sections set apart for veggies at the moment and my peas are coming up now.

Having more chook housing has also meant we could rearrange our chooks so that we have our pure breeds isolated and can collect our own fertilized eggs now too, for brooding or selling.  And speaking of brooding, we loaned a clucky hen to our neighbours last month and she is now the proud mother of 6 Cochin chicks.  Cochins are a large friendly chook with feathered legs that the young lass next door is planning to breed. Our own hens are not doing so well at brooding this year, we have had a couple of them desert their eggs before they hatched and one who made the eggs filthy which is not good for them.  It is pretty frustrating, especially since we bought some special fertile eggs of particular breeds that Lydia wanted.  One clutch of Silver Laced Wyandotte eggs is due to hatch today but we are not hopeful that there will be many chicks as the poor eggs got well and truly messed around.  The next clutch is due on Thursday, they are French Marans.  Fingers crossed that the hen will last the distance.

We decided last month that we needed to be rational about our cattle.  We just do not have the pasture to support much here yet and so we made up our minds, reluctantly, to sell our Dexter cow and the calf.  Of course no sooner did we decide to do that than the cow got sick and went off her hay.  I hurriedly built a little crush using three trees, one post and my old head bale so that I would have somewhere to restrain her if we needed a vet to see her.

However in the end Izzy picked up again just with some TLC and lucerne chaff, although too much lucerne can give her a belly ache so we have to be careful.  After talking about them at our homeschool group, we found a family there who wanted to buy some Dexters and the long and the short of it all is that they decided to buy our girls. That is really a blessing as we know they are going to a good home and we can even go and see them if we want to.  The plan we worked out was that they would be collected by the stud that Izzy went to before so that she can visit the bull, Maria the calf can be halter trained and the people buying them can get some cattle handling training before taking them to their own place.

And they were collected just yesterday.  The lady phoned in the morning to say she was on her way and we talked about our facilities (or lack of them – tiny crush, little homemade ramp, no yards).  She mentioned that she was mainly concerned about loading up Maria, so when Lydia and I went down to shift all the animals around (horse here, Dexters there, sooky calf wherever) we decided to try to put a halter on Maria first.  We coaxed her into my little crush and locked her in there.  She was not impressed, but it meant we were able to put the halter on.  Then we tied the rope to the corner post and let her out and she had her first halter training lesson.  She was not impressed!  There was plenty of vigorous pulling, rearing, leaping and the occasional collapse on her side.  I am so glad that we had been to the Dexter field day and seen other calves being halter trained so that I knew what to expect.  In the end she was tied up for an hour before Andrea arrived from the stud, which gave her plenty of time to learn that the rope would not let her go.

I was worried for a while that I had done the wrong thing as poor Maria was not happy with the situation and I wondered if all I had done was to upset her.  But Andrea thought it was great and it meant she was able to lead her to the trailer using the halter, while Lydia did the same with Izzy.  Not that it was an easy exercise, lots of pulling with the occasional leap and bound from Izzy and even more energetic antics from Maria (definitely more halter training lessons required), but it didn’t actually take too long. Then they went up my ramp and onto the trailer with no hassles, just more patient pulling and pushing, and it was all done. Andrea even took the ear tag to put on Maria for me.  Andrea is of the opinion that Izzy’s recent health problems stem from her putting all of her energy into milk for Maria, and losing condition herself in the process.  So getting Maria weaned and letting Isabelle have access to lots of good pasture should be the best thing for her.  I feel much easier in my mind having had her advice, and I was very pleased that my efforts in making the crush and ramp were worth while as they made the job go much smoother.  I will miss my cranky old cow though.

We still have our three sooky calves, although it is hard to call them that now that they are 11 months old.  The two steers we recently moved to a property that our neighbour is leasing and we are agisting them there.  Because the boys still remember their halter training they were really good to move, Lydia and I just led them down the road and onto the neighbours horse float.  However we have kept the heifer at home, as a companion for the horse and so that we can continue to handle her regularly so she stays quiet.  Another advantage to us of keeping this heifer over the Dexters is that we can get her mated much more easily with the bulls down the road, and there should be no need to take her off to any studs.  So we are down to 1 horse, 1 cow and 3 pigs on the property (not counting occasional piglets) so we should be able to organise them between paddocks somewhat better now.  We need to be able to rest some of the areas to give the grass a chance to grow, and we also want to put in potatoes again this year.

In other news I turned 50 last month.  I am constantly reminded that I am getting older because I have to have my glasses on so much now or I just can’t focus to read – or type emails.  Lydia made me the most delicious Black Forest Cake for my birthday.  She did it properly with kirsch and everything, it was such a treat!

The poor boys continue to struggle with their health, as does Kim, and the whole family has been hit with a particularly nasty cold this last week, but we have so much to be thankful for.  Caleb’s school is having a reunion and his friends offered to pay for him to go over for that.  He refused at first, because he is so sick, but in the end they convinced him that they will look after him and so he will be back in Albany briefly next month.  I really think he is going to struggle, but he does have good friends.  Sam is planning to be back in Albany in February next year despite his bad health too.  One of his best mates, Mitchell, is getting married.  We still have no idea where he will be staying or anything yet, but we are committed to getting him there and back.  I would love to go back to visit again sometime too, maybe it can be my turn next. 🙂

Happy New Year

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

We have finished off 2010 by enjoying having the kombi back in action again.  After some work on the carbi, Kim has it running beautifully now.  We hope that with a trailer will be able to do the bulk of the jobs that we did with the ute before.  The ute has now been retired from the road.  It’s rust level was just getting too bad!  Kim has been kept quite busy whenever he is well enough with lots of work on the cars lately. Sometimes it seems never ending.

Meanwhile our 3 beautiful calves are doing well.  They are not so happy with us at the moment though, as they are being weaned off milk. They are only 8 weeks old, but with the cost of a bag of milk being close to $100, we just couldn’t afford to let them stay on it indefinitely, so the early weaning option was the only way.  They are eating well and can manage just fine without the milk anyhow, although they would not agree. The little black heifer has the loveliest personality, which is very promising for her prospective career as a house cow.  Her official name was going to be Violet, but I started calling her Twinkle Toes as a joke while she was little, and the name seems to have stuck. Oh dear. I can’t quite imagine a full grown cow going by the name of Twinkle Toes, but we shall see.

Just the other day we finished the first stage of our new chook cages.  The cage has a solid wood frame 6 metres long with an area of 12 square metres, plenty of room for 12 chooks.  The plan is to extend the frame for another 12 metres.  We made it nice and tall so we can walk into it easily.  Years of climbing into the old chook domes have made that a very desirable option for us.

Modular panels are bolted onto the frames.  These panels will be moved along the frame, once it has been extended, giving 2 garden beds and 1 chook house for each row.  Ultimately, if the idea works, we would like to have 12 rows with 4 chook houses rotating along them, but that will be a long time coming.  However we are pleased to have our prototype made so we can see how it works, and the chooks seem quite happy with it.

The poor turkeys are still not having a good run.  We currently have only 4 poults, and they are locked up near the house being cared for by us and one foster turkey hen who is sitting on her own 2 eggs at the same time.  We are even down 2 hens, one lost to a stray dog and the other we think to a quoll.  So there wont be many turkey dinners this year, but we do have plenty of pork to make up for it.

We have lakes instead of paddocks again after the rain last month.  We ended up having 130mm in a day and a half, nothing to what they are experiencing in Queensland though!  It is quite amazing to us to see the lakes full again, and I have even dragged out the blow up boat to make the most of it.

Lydia is keeping busy helping the cook to feed tourists down at the Guest House, and enjoys riding Zorro whenever she can.  She has discovered the way through to some good bush tracks behind our property and has been exploring the foothills of Mt Roland.

Sam has had some better health for the last few weeks on his latest treatment regime.  We are all most pleased about that.  However Caleb continues to suffer, despite various trials of diets, and has to wait until March for his appointment with a specialist.   Josiah is just fine, greatly enjoying the school holidays.

Well, that is about it for our news for the time being.  We wish all the best for you all for this coming year.